Exploring other options: Westfield veteran works with multiple organizations to legalize medical cannabis

Capt. Jason Straw is a U.S. Air Force veteran who served as a critical care nurse overseas. (Photos by Sadie Hunter)

By Anna Skinner

Veteran U.S. Air Force Capt. Jason Straw knows firsthand what dealing with medical traumas in a war’s combat zone can be like.

“We are dealing with things nobody here in the states has ever seen,” the Westfield resident said.

Now Straw, after serving as a critical care nurse overseas, is working with like-minded organizations in an attempt to legalize medical cannabis to help treat veterans and victims of trauma deal with acute pain.

Capt. Jason Straw served overseas in Afghanistan as a critical care nurse. (Submitted photo)

“In combat, we don’t have to abide by FDA rules,” he said. “We are allowed to do whatever we deem necessary to save the patient as long as we can back it up. If two doctors believe something will save a patient or improve quality of life or save a life, we can do it.”

But in the states, FDA rules apply with regard to patient care.  Straw said the FDA only allows up to six weeks of opioid prescriptions to treat acute pain. He said that most wounded servicemen and women who suffer traumatic injuries overseas will experience pain much longer than six weeks.

Medical cannabis, Straw said, can help.

“Inpatient surgery patients can have (opioids), cancer patients can have it. What is (the soldier) going to do?” Straw said. “Acupuncture and chiropractic care has shown to help a little bit, but with medical cannabis they’re showing about 75 percent of patients having some positive benefit similar to the opium.”

In addition to managing pain, Straw said medical cannabis helps in preventing opioid addictions and instances where the injured veteran might try to illegally purchase drugs on the street.

“My whole goal was to get all of the organizations to talk to each other and get organized,” Straw said. “The problem was there are all these organizations and nobody was talking to each other and there was nobody who understood how the medical side really worked. With my background in research and trauma and critical care, I was able to go through and do research for them.”

One of the patients Capt. Jason Straw worked with while serving overseas. Straw said a patient like this will experience pain for
more than six weeks, which is the maximum amount of time for an opium prescription. (Submitted photo)

The organizations Straw works with include The Higher Fellowship, which is a group of advocates for the medicinal use of marijuana in Indiana, Indiana Normal and Hoosier Vets for Medical Cannabis.

“States are having problems with opium overdose deaths. The more liberal the medical marijuana law, the better the percentage of lowering the opium death rate,” Straw said. “People have pain, you’ve got to treat it. It’s inhumane to have people in pain and not treat it. These guys are going to look for a way to treat their pain.”

“This is a historical year for Indiana,” said David Phipps, co-founder and executive director of The Higher Fellowship. “This is the first time in our state’s history that we’ve seen 11 medicinal cannabis bills submitted. Normally, we see two to three in that range. We have had 11 bills submitted so far.”

Phipps said the big project right now is Senate Bill 15, which would allow for cannabidiol to treat epilepsy. Cannabidiol is derived from marijuana oil.

“There is serious suffering going on right now that is completely avoidable through medicinal cannabis,” Phipps said. “That’s what it boils down to is ending this suffering for those patients.”

For more, visit iga.in.gov/legislative/2017/bills/senate/15.

Town Hall Meeting

A Town Hall meeting is scheduled for 11:45 a.m. March 16 at the Statehouse, 200 W. Washington St., Indianapolis. The Higher Fellowship co-founder and executive director David Phipps will be present as well as veterans, former law enforcement, Sen. Karen Tallian and Rep. Sue Errington (D-Muncie). Phipps said he is expecting between 150-250 people. The event is open to the public.

“What we’re going to be doing is encouraging our governor to sign Senate Bill 15 to get that medication to epileptic patients that need it, but also motivating legislators to begin writing more medicinal cannabis bills and encourage those legislators that have already written more medicinal cannabis-related bills to take action,” Phipps said.

For more, visit thehigherfellowship.org.

  • leestraw

    Thank you for covering this topic. I truly believe the more options that doctors have to treat severe pain the better off patients will be. Patients deserve the best care we can give them! If a doctor and patient believe something will help and other options have failed or are more harmful why not give another option? God bless them and watch over the doctors, patients and our government officals who get the final say in what we have access to treat or not treat patients with who need it.